NEW YORK, N.Y. – Scott “Top Ten” Kempner, the Bronx-born guitarist, songwriter and band leader, passed away today at a nursing home in Connecticut at the age of 69. The cause of death was complications related to early onset dementia.
In 1972, while visiting a friend at a college in New Paltz, NY, Scott started playing music with Andy Shernoff and Ross “The Boss” Friedman and together they founded The Dictators. It was there that he received the nickname, Top Ten. The band’s 1974 debut album, The Dictators Go Girl Crazy is frequently credited with leading the transition from glam rock to punk. The band recorded three albums before splitting up though they have continued sporadically ever since. They officially re-formed in 2019 with Scott on board until he was diagnosed with dementia.
After The Dictators initial break up, Scott, bassist Manny Caiati and guitarist Eric Ambel, formed The Del Lords who are similarly considered precursors to what is now called “Americana." They released seven albums through their career, including 2013’s Elvis Club. He also played and toured as a side man in several bands, among them The Brandos, The Helen Wheels Band, Little Kings (with Dion DiMucci) and The Paradise Brothers (with Neil Giraldo).
He also recorded three highly acclaimed solo albums (Tenement Angels, Saving Grace and Live From Blueberry Hill) along the way.
His songwriting was always heartfelt, direct and powered by his overwhelming passion for rock and roll and the 3-minute song. It was as much a defining element of his career as his steady, forceful rhythm guitar playing was its signature. While both of his bands have long been considered influential, neither achieved any significant mainstream success.
He was born February 6, 1954 to Manny and Lynn Kempner, both deceased, in the Bronx, N.Y. He is survived by his sister, Robin Kempner, and her wife, Mary Noa-Kempner, and his wife, Sharon Ludtke.
Several friends and associates offered heartfelt thoughts on Kempner’s passing:
According to Dion, “Scott Kempner was the quintessential rocker, a free abandoned guitar player, a superb arranger, A prolific songwriter, with the great sense of rhythm. I had the adventure of a lifetime playing with him in our band Little Kings. But most of all he is a dear friend and brother whom I love and will truly miss. Eternal rest my friend.”
Andy Shernoff, with whom Kempner played in the Dictators, said: “Scott was one of the greats, the best buddy a boy could ever want. We bonded over rock ‘n’ roll and we laughed about everything. We had a million inside jokes that nobody understood. I watched him grow from a guy running his SG guitar through his home stereo in his bedroom to playing Marshall amps cranked on stages around the world. His songs and music will speak for themselves. His glorious memory will remain with me forever and I will cherish it.”
Longtime friend and fellow Del-Lord Eric Ambel said: “Scott used his Dictators experience as the heart of that band to inform the songwriting he did for the Del-Lords. His songs were’t solo songs adapted by the band to play, they were written specifically for the Del-Lords and informed by our lives together and that’s just a part of what made Scott and his songs so unique.”
No services are planned, but there will be a memorial in his honor at a later date.
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Contact: Rich Nesin, firstname.lastname@example.org